Ever since Jabari Parker landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, everyone has been talking about him. The high school basketball star from Chicago is attracting attention for a lot of reasons. He is an extraordinary player being sought after by major colleges. His father was a professional basketball player for the Warriors. He has won award after award and is considered one of the best players in the country.
And he’s a Mormon. There is a Book of Mormon in his backpack and Jabari considers his religion more important than his basketball. He says that playing basketball is only what he does, not who he is. He finds a lot of people are surprised to find out he’s Mormon because he lives in Chicago and is black, so he says he spends a lot of time clearing up the stereotypes. His father is not Mormon, but his mother is and the children were raised Mormon. Jabari’s older brother served a volunteer two-year mission for the Mormons when he was nineteen and strongly encourages his brother to do the same, saying it was the greatest experience of his life. His mother also served a mission.
The Sports Illustrated story notes that Jabari is different from most other young stars. He’s just not that interested in the fame part of his life. When the reporter tried to catch him after a game, he couldn’t find him with the other players, who were flirting with girls and soaking in attention. Instead, he found him handing out water to the JV team, far from the media and the girls.
Jabari feels he has a moral responsibility to set a good example to other teens and to children who are fans. He knows they are watching and that some will make choices based on how he behaves. He knows he has the power to make a difference.
Jabari learned how to play basketball at the church. Most Mormon buildings contain a cultural hall which also doubles as a gym. The gyms usually have a basketball net and most congregation have teams for their teens, both boys and girls, and sometimes for adults as well. His father took him to the church early in the morning to practice and the boys had their own church keys so they could practice safely early in the morning or late at night. Because Jabari grew up in a very dangerous neighborhood, he found in the church building a safe harbor. Because the building was filled with pictures of Jesus Christ, he and his brother felt a strong spiritual spirit and found themselves unwilling to do the kinds of things they might do somewhere else. Their practices at the church kept them morally safe, as well as physically safe.
His parents helped set priorities. They made it clear to the high school coach that Jabari was a student and a Mormon first, which meant he was expected to get good grades and to attend church. Basketball had a lower priority than either of those things, an attitude which surprised their coach, who was more accustomed to parents who wanted to make sure their child became a sports star. Sunday practices are scheduled after Jabari’s three hours of church meetings and when he travels, the coach makes sure he gets to church. He has even skipped celebrations to get home for special church events, such as the day he received a priesthood advancement at church. (All worthy Mormon men can receive the priesthood at age twelve and advance through several levels.)
Mormon teens who achieve fame and success at a young age face a great many challenges, but the gospel helps teens like Jabari to focus on what really matters in the long run. A basketball career might last a few years, but his identity as a Christian will last forever.
Read the article on Jabari Parker in Sports Illustrated